New Delhi: Opposition leaders may have accused the Uttar Pradesh government of shielding Union Minister Ajay Mishra ‘Teni’, whose son Ashish Mishra is an accused in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence, and demanded his resignation, but the minister continues to participate in various programmes of the Ministry of Home Affairs.
According to BJP sources, Ajay has not resigned since he still considers his son to be innocent.
Lakhimpur Kheri violence is just one among several incidents in the recent past in which the BJP has been accused of protecting the culprits. This is in contrast to the BJP and its politics of 1980s, when the party tried to follow ‘minimum threshold for moral responsibility’ to present itself as a party with a difference.
Bangaru Laxman & George Fernandes to Babu Singh Kushwaha
There have been several instances when Vajpayee and Advani either expelled or denied tickets to leaders accused in corruption or criminal cases.
In 2000, when Vajpayee was the PM, an Ahmedabad court framed charges against Harin Pathak, the then MoS for defence production, in a 15-year-old case related to a police constable’s murder during the anti-reservation movement of 1985.
When the news broke, Vajpayee called Arun Jaitley, the then law minister, for consultation. Jaitley said if a charge sheet has been filed, then it will not be prudent for the minister to continue. After this Vajpayee asked Harin to resign.
In another incident, in 2010, son of Vajpayee’s nephew Anoop Mishra, who was then Madhya Pradesh’s health minister, was named as an accused in the death of a youth from Gwalior.
The brother of the deceased youth had filed an FIR against 15 people, including Anoop Mishra’s son Ashwin Mishra, Anoop’s brothers Abhay Mishra and Ajay Mishra. When the Opposition demanded Anoop Mishra’s resignation, the then BJP in-charge of Madhya Pradesh, Ananth Kumar, and Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan sought Advani’s opinion. Advani asked Anoop to resign.
Advani had himself resigned as an MP in 1996 over allegations of his involvement in the Hawala scam. He was consequently re-elected in 1998 after the high court acquitted him.
In March 2001, a sting operation conducted by news portal Tehelka showed late Bangaru Laxman, who was then the BJP president, allegedly taking a bribe from a fake arms dealer. Former Samata Party president Jaya Jaitly was also accused of accepting cash at the official residence of then defence minister George Fernandes. Vajpayee removed Bangaru Laxman from the post of party president and George Fernandes resigned as the defence minister.
In 2004, ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, on the basis of Pramod Mahajan’s recommendation, then BJP president Venkaiah Naidu had inducted UP leader Dharam Pal Yadav, whose son Vikas Yadav was the main accused in the Nitish Katara murder case, in the party.
When Vajpayee reached his parliamentary constituency Lucknow for campaigning, the media questioned him over Dharam Pal’s entry into the party. As soon as Vajpayee returned to Delhi, he called Naidu and asked Dharam Pal be removed from the party. He was expelled the next day.
In 2011, former UP minister and an accused in the NRHM scam, Babu Singh Kushwaha, joined the BJP. At that time Nitin Gadkari was the BJP national president. After controversy erupted, Advani expressed his displeasure and Gadkari was forced to sack him.
In the past, several BJP ministers accused of provocative speeches have also been asked to resign.
For instance, in 2013, then Madhya Pradesh tribal minister Vijay Shah was asked to resign over his derogatory remarks against women.
Accused of hate speech & fake degrees but no action taken
This is, however, in contrast to the Modi-Shah regime, where, in the last seven years, ministers accused of hate speeches or criminal charges have continued to hold positions of power, despite public outrage and the Opposition’s ire.
A senior BJP leader told ThePrint that ethics was a part of public life during Vajpayee-Advani era, but the focus now has shifted to organisational expansion.
“Vajpayee and Advani grew up in the era when Shastri ji had resigned after taking responsibility of a small train accident. This means that ethics was part of public life’s values. They always made every possible effort to prevent the evils of Congress from crossing over in Jana Sangh and BJP,” the leader said.
“‘Party with a difference’ was main plank of Advani-Vajpayee duo. Gaining power at any cost was never our aim. But in this new era, insistence on continual organisational expansion of the party has become the main objective. There is no urge towards cleansing the politics.”
Minister of State for Home Ajay Mishra is the latest example. His son was arrested Saturday in the Lakhimpur Kheri deaths case, but his father still continues to hold his post as the Minister of State for Home.
In the last seven years, only one Union minister, M.J. Akbar, resigned from his post in the wake of sexual harassment allegations.
In 2019, Union minister Prahlad Patel’s son Prabal Patel was arrested in Damoh for allegedly attempting to kill some people by attacking them. Despite this, he remained unscathed through all this controversy.
In 2014, the Opposition targeted Modi’s ministers Smriti Irani and Ram Shankar Katheria over a fake degree row. But the PM did not take any action against them.
Similarly, rape accused MP Nihal Chand Jain continued to be part of the Modi cabinet.
In an interview in 2015, Advani had said that maintaining public trust is the biggest responsibility in politics. Morality says that maintaining sanctity in politics is the foremost duty the state (raj dharma). He himself had decided not to contest the elections till his name is cleared from allegations leveled in the hawala case.
During a BJP election rally in Delhi last year, Union minister Anurag Thakur allegedly raised an inflammatory slogan, which triggered outrage. But instead of taking action against him, the BJP promoted him to the rank of a cabinet minister.
“During Vajpayee era, party’s filter system was strict to wean out tainted leaders. Political sanctity was used more often because both these leaders were product of the Nehruvian era and they established the Jana Sangh to make it a viable alternative to the Congress,” said Sanjay Kumar, Director, CSDS.
“But now the ability to win elections decides one’s political direction in BJP and being politically correct carries no premium to it.”
(Edited by Neha Mahajan)